Grape Workers’ Squalid Conditions

THE Karasburg constituency councillor, Paulus Efraim, has warned that there is no “quick fix” to the poor living conditions of Aussenkehr’s residents.

About 10 years ago, government made an undertaking to provide decent housing at Aussenkehr which is home to an estimated 16 000 residents when the farm’s landlord Dusan Vasiljevic had donated 600 hectares for the development of a town.

But a decade on, residents – most of whom are grape farm workers and the backbone of the grape industry that generates millions of dollars from exports, and those flocking to the farm to seek jobs – still live in abysmal conditions.

Efraim said the town’s development is work in progress.

“The people must understand that . . . we do not want a squatter camp,” Efraim added.

Efraim revealed that sample houses were built on two of the 4 000 serviced plots, and that in total 7 000 plots were demarcated for the planned construction of houses to address the poor living conditions of the workers.

The councillor said it will take more than two years before the construction of the workers’ houses commences. Furthermore, he added that the transfer of the land donated by the farm owner to government, which had taken almost seven years to complete, has also stalled the development of a town.

On their part, the Aussenkehr employers blamed government for dragging its feet on completing the town development.

Capespan managing director Andre Vermaak said the issue of decent housing for Aussenkehr’s residents has been on the agenda for 15 years, adding all companies producing grapes at the valley are committed to assisting their workers to own a decent house.

Vermaak revealed the grape companies operating at the Aussenkehr valley employs about 800 permanent workers, while 4 000 casual jobs are created during harvesting and pruning seasons.

He said government and the companies still have to discuss and agree on the financing concept of constructing decent houses for the workers.

“Currently, the companies pay their workers monthly housing allowances. We need to sit around the table and decide on the housing financing concept,” said Vermaak.

Almost 90% of the residents either live in huts made of reeds, or in corrugated zinc shacks. Their shelters lack basic amenities such as electricity, running water or sanitation facilities.

Some residents relieve themselves on the river banks when nature calls.

“We are suffering here. We are subjected to inhuman conditions such as drinking untreated water and living in unsanitary conditions. It is a health hazard,” Malamba Kambinda remarked.

Another resident, who refused to be named, said some people no longer suffer from diarrhoea even though they drink untreated water, which is being supplied to them directly from the Orange River.

“Their stomachs are now conditioned because we have been drinking untreated water for many years,” said the resident.

However, not all the residents have developed “immunity” against the water-borne disease. This is shown by the number of residents who queue up as early as 06h00 to get first attention at the clinic which serves around 35 000 people.

“The clinic is fully packed each day. At times people return home without getting medical treatment,” said a resident who added that the common illness among children is diarrhoea caused by the untreated water they drink.

WORKERS TRANSPORTED IN TRUCKS

Despite a prohibition on the transportation of passengers or employees in delivery trucks imposed by former minister of works and transport Erkki Nghimtina, workers at Aussenkehr are still being transported to and from work in this manner.

In 2013, a truck carrying 200 Aussenkehr workers overturned, resulting in some of them sustaining serious injuries.

At that time the workers claimed they had pleaded with their bosses to provide better transport before the accident but to no avail.

The Aussenkehr grape farmers include Cape Orchard Company, CoolFresh Namibia, Namibia Grape Company, Orange River Vineyard Investment, Namibia Vineyard Corporation of Companies (Navico) which includes Exotic International Company, Namibia Grape Export and Nivex, owned by Dusan Vasiljevic.

Source : The Namibian